There was little that suggested that Miles Evans wanted to be in China this past week. His social media featured regular pictures of Hermosa Beach — whose translation in Spanish is “beautiful” — living up to its name. Gorgeous sunsets. Colors everywhere. Idyllic temperatures. These photos were regularly contrasted with those from China. A bit smoggy. Bit gray.
Maybe Sunday changed his mind.
On Sunday afternoon, he and Chase Budinger won their first tournament as a team, winning six straight matches at the Haikou Challenge to claim a gold medal. Nearly as significant as the medal itself are the teams they beat to earn it: Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk in the semifinals (21-15, 21-19), and Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb in the finals (21-14, 23-21).
“We’ve been waiting all year for this gold medal,” Evans said. “That’s a really good team, we’ve lost to them all year, it’s finally time we beat them.”
In three previous meetings with Crabb and Brunner — an AVP in Chicago, a Challenge in Espinho, the World Championships — Evans and Budinger hadn’t won a single set, outscored by 26 total points. Sunday in Haikou was a stunning reversal. A 9-9 first set tie was pushed to a 13-9 lead on a blend of errors and blocks, which was then extended to 18-12. The ball control throughout a windy week in Haikou that had gotten Brunner and Crabb to the finals began betraying them. Errant passes. Over-sets. Errors on swings and even the occasional shot. Meanwhile, Budinger and Evans played the calm, patient, smooth game they had all tournament, rarely gifting errors, hitting on-two when available — and it was often available, kudos of the near-perfect passing — serving aggressive but controlled. Budinger, in fact, opened up the second set with a line shot and consecutive aces, which preceded a Brunner hitting error.
While Brunner and Crabb would tie the score at 8-8, and again at 18-18 after trailing 13-15, they’d never lead again.
It was a testament to the tremendous poise showed by Budinger and Evans all week, poise they displayed in a pair of hot and humid three-set wind-ball matches against Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher (21-15, 19-21, 15-10), and England’s Bello Brothers, Joaquin and Javier (21-19, 18-21, 15-12).
The win vaults Budinger and Evans four spots in the Olympic rankings in what is quickly becoming a four-horse race for the USA. Evans and Budinger are now No. 22, their…